1) Choose a domain name
A domain name is the URL or web address on which you run your site, eg. highexistence.com. There are a few key things to consider when choosing a domain name:
a) Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
You’re going to start hearing this term a lot — it is the process of making your website more likely to be found on search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing. For domain names, it is smart to include a keyword that people might search to find your site. For example if your site is about waffle recipes, a domain like JordansWaffleRecipes.com would be good for SEO.
At the same time, you should also make your domain name as short and catchy as possible. Depending on the type of site you are starting, it might be more beneficial to forget about including keywords in order to make the domain name more simple. It doesn’t even have to be a real word eg. Twitter, Vimeo, Posterous. Continuing with the waffle site example, a good domain name might be Wahfulls.com.
c) Meaning – Try to choose a name that I visitor can look at and instantly know what your site is about. This isn’t necessary because you could just as easily put an explanation at the top of your site, but it would be helpful.
Domain names are registered for anywhere from $2-30 per year. I always use GoDaddy.com for my domain names because it is the cheapest at $11.99 for a .com domain (different extensions like .net or .biz are cheaper than .com)
2) Purchase a Hosting Account
The job of a hosting company is to store your website content on their servers and makes sure it is constantly available for download. They also do a lot of complicated things you do NOT want to do yourself that I won’t go into. Just know that you cannot do your own hosting unless you have very advanced knowledge.
There are different kinds of hosting for different sized sites, but for your first site a shared hosting account will work just fine. It is called a shared account because you share the server bandwidth with other accounts based on moment-to-moment needs. You can easily upgrade to a faster, dedicated account later when your site attracts more traffic. This will run you $8-15 per month and most cheap providers will ask you to buy a year of service upfront.
I have tried Bluehost, HostGator and GoDaddy and absolutely hated all of them. My sites were down all the time and their customer service wasn’t too great either.
My favorite hosting provider is VMStorm, which is what HighExistence runs on currently. They have extraordinarily cheap plans at $8.97 per month, and do not make you pay for a year in advance like the previously mentioned hosts. That price includes full managed service, meaning they will help you out with any server issues you run into. Note: I do not receive any kickbacks if signing up with VMStorm, they just rock!
3) Get to Know Your cPanel
When you log into your hosting account, it should take you to your cPanel automatically. This is the back end of your hosting account where you can create email addresses, change settings, manage domain names, create new FTP users, etc. It looks really complex right now but I promise it will become easy soon enough.
The best way to learn here is through experience but if you need extra help, see the Unofficial Guide to cPanel
3) Download the Necessary Applications
You need 1 or 2 different applications to start a website depending on what you want to do.
1) File-Transfer-Protocol (FTP) + Code Editor Program
This is an absolute must because it allows you to edit and transfer files to and from the hosting server your just purchased. They are very easy to use once you get it to connect to your server. If you’re having trouble setting it up, contact your hosting provider.
a) Coda (Mac only) — by far the best app out there but will run you $99 (unless you use a little site called PirateBay to get it for less, wink wink).
b) Aptana Studio 2 (Mac/Windows/Linux) – a free application that does almost everything Coda does. It’s a little less polished but it will definitely get the job done.
2) Digital Design Program (optional)
If you would like to design elements like the logo for your website yourself, you need one of these fun applications.
a) Adobe Photoshop and/or Adobe Illustrator– the industry standard for digital design. Illustrator is more targeted at designing things from scratch as opposed to photo editing, but Photoshop will have everything you need. Every single graphic and most of the images you see on this website has been created in Photoshop. Both of these apps cost $199 BUT Adobe also offers a 30-day free trial, no credit card required.
b) InkScape – the free alternative to Adobe Illustrator. I have no used this program but it looks to have everything you would need to design a logo.
4) Choose a Content Management System
In the old days, web designers had to create websites using pages and pages of code. Luckily for you there are now content management systems (CMS) out there that have made it so you can create a beautiful site without ever touching a line of code. Unless your site is a completely custom idea like Twitter or StumbleUpon, you will be able to do it all with a CMS.
There a three major CMS’s out there for you to choose from:
a) WordPress – The most popular and easy to use CMS available. If this is your first time doing anything web-related I highly recommend you choose WordPress.
b) Drupal – While being more advanced and customizable than WordPress, Drupal is aimed more at users with some coding experience. The only reason you should choose Drupal over WordPress is if you require fine-tuned customization like multiple dynamic content types (press releases, news articles, blog posts, etc.). For a better comparison of the two, check out this article.
c) Joomla! – Joomla is more customizable than WordPress but not as feature-rich as Drupal. I think you should either go with the simplicity of WordPress or the advanced options offered by Drupal. I don’t see the point in using Joomla, but that is just me.
5) Pick a Design
WordPress, Drupal and Joomla all work with themes, or templates that dictate how your site will look. There are literally thousands upon thousands of themes on the internet for you to choose from.
If you’re tight on cash, there are plenty of free, beautiful themes. However if you have an extra $20, it’s definitely worth it to buy a premium theme. The advantage is premium themes usually come with a whole bunch of custom settings that make them more customizable than free themes. Some premium themes even come with free support so you can go in and ask the developers how to change certain things.
6) Choose a monetization model
If part of your goal in creating the site is money, you should start thinking early on how you want to go about generating income. There are 5 basic revenue models for you to choose from:
Depending on the ad service you use, you will get paid a certain amount per 1000 impressions/pageviews (CPM) or per click (CPC). CPM rates can vary from 10 cents to $25 or more while CPC can vary from 1 cent to multiple dollars. It seriously depends on the quality of the ad network you use.
You can also sell your own products online such as an eBook, CD or your brand of energy drink. Digital products are the best to shoot for because you don’t have to stock inventory, ship items or deal with returns. Here are a few e-commerce options to choose from:
WordPress Ecommerce Plugin – A free plugin for setting up an online store if you went the WordPress route
Network Solutions Ecommerce Shopping Cart – an all-in-one domain, hosting and ecommerce solution for any sized online store
c) Affiliate Products
Don’t have your own product idea? Just sell someone else’s and get a share of the profit! Sites like Clickbank make it easy to find other people’s products to sell on your website. You simply place affiliate links that have your unique affiliate ID and if anyone clicks on them and purchases the product, money is immediately in your account.
d) Premium Membership
Some sites offer extra content or privileges to users if they purchase a premium membership. For example, Amazon.com offers a ‘Prime’ membership for $60 per year that gives members free 2-day shipping on any purchase. Another example would be a site that only shows normal members half of their blog posts/forums/pictures and charges $5/month to see everything.
7) Learn some code
I swear coding for websites is not as hard as it sounds. HTML is the most simple coding language out there and CSS can’t even be considered a language. Here’s a quick example:
<p style=”color:blue; font-size: 20px;”> Hello everyone! </p>
<p> stands for paragraph. As you can probably guess, that paragraph would be colored blue and have size 30 font. Of course it’s not all that simple but I wanted to show you that it’s not beyond your capacity to learn.
Learning HTML and CSS will give you the ability to make your website look however you want without paying someone $50/hour to make the changes for you. It is well worth your time and it’s fun too, I promise 🙂
8) “…but I have more questions!”
Google is now your best friend. If you have ANY question about anything, just Google and you will most likely find some forum where someone has asked the exact same question.I learned everything I know about websites through Google. No books, no class, no teachers or webinars… just Google.
If you can’t find the answer anywhere, create an account on StackOverflow.com and ask the experts. You will get an answer back within minutes.
If all else fails or it’s a very general question, do feel free to ask in the comments section below.
Happy Web Designing!!!